Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, Chelsea,
an Arts and Crafts masterpiece
Amidst the bustle of Sloane Square and the King’s Road, Holy Trinity offers an oasis of calm. It is also one of the most beautiful churches in England. One looks up in awe at the magnificent east window, the largest stained-glass window produced by Morris & Co. With magnificent sculptures by Frederick William Pomeroy and Henry Hugh Armstead, the richly decorated interior recalls the splendour of late Medieval-Renaissance churches. The architect John Dando Sedding was highly principled, believing architecture was a divinely inspired art closely bound to craftsmanship.
‘The cathedral of the Arts & Crafts Movement’.
Sir John Betjeman
‘There is hope in honest error, none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist.’
John Dando Sedding
The Architect: John Dando Sedding 1838-1891
‘He formed the first bridge between the architects’ camp and that of handicraft proper.’
Hermann Muthesius, German architect, and writer.
Sedding’s outlook was shaped by Ruskin’s ‘The Nature Gothic’, which was published in The Stones of Venice (1853). Following in the footsteps of William Morris and Philip Webb, he joined the offices of the Gothic Revival architect George Edmund Street (1824-1881), best known for the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. Street’s practise was a cradle for the fledgling Arts and Crafts movement. One of Sedding’s first churches was the Anglo-Catholic St Martin’s, Low Marple, Cheshire completed in 1872. The interior was designed by William Morris with contributions from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones and William Holman Hunt. When Sedding set up his practise in London, he took offices on the upper floors of 447 Oxford Street, next door to the premises of Morris & Co.
Meeting Ruskin in 1876, Sedding took to heart his injunction to ‘always have pencil or chisel in hand if he were to be more than an employer of men on commission.’ Taking a dedicated interest in the crafts, he gathered a team of masons, carvers, and modellers. His aim was to revive the medieval system of cooperation between architect and craftsman.He exerted a remarkable influence over his workmen, encouraging them to draw from nature. He was tireless in studying and drawing flowers, leaves and animals from life. These studies provided the basis for his ornamental designs. He also encouraged is craftsmen to study old buildings, focusing on craft techniques. He was always closely involved in building practices, directly supervising his team of craftsmen. Not surprisingly he was a founder member of the Art Workers’ Guild in 1884. He was elected its second Master in 1886.
Favouring the curvaceous forms of late-Perpendicular Gothic, Holy Trinity blends together a heady mix of Byzantine, Italian Renaissance, Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts! The pulpit was designed in the Sienna Renaissance style, being made of different coloured marbles and supported on columns of red marble and alabaster. The baldachin, supported by four Ionic columns of red porphyry, is also in the Italian Renaissance style. Yet the ironworks gates and their wings, that enclose the chancel, reflect the naturalism of the Arts and Crafts style. In their curvilinear forms they seem to look ahead to French Art Nouveau.
Sedding exerted a profound influence over a younger generation of architect-craftsmen, with Ernest Gimson and Ernest Barnsley both entering his offices. Charles Rennie Mackintosh adopted Sedding’s caveat:
Dying prematurely, Sedding’s assistant Henry Wilson, oversaw the decoration of Holy Trinity. Although he followed Sedding’s ideals, his designs were more inventive. Stylistically Wilson preferred Romanesque and Byzantine forms to Gothic. He favoured rich materials, especially coloured marbles and mosaic work. He was a gifted craftsman, specialising in metalwork, church plate and furnishings, jewellery, and sculpture. A member of the Art Workers’ Guild from 1892, he was elected Master in 1917. Part of William Lethaby’s circle, he taught at the Central School of Arts and Crafts from 1896. He also taught metalwork at the Royal College of Art.
Wilson served as President of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society from 1915 to 1922. One of his greatest achievements was staging a landmark Arts and Crafts Exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1916. Wilson conceived the inventive layout, transforming the conventional galleries into a series of rooms: civic, ecclesiastical, a ‘house’, with seven ‘delightful interiors’, a weaving room, a treasury for silverwork and jewels and a retrospective room dominated by the works of William Morris and Burne-Jones. Throughout the 19th century the RA had scorned the decorative arts, retorting ‘surely you don’t expect us artists to allow our galleries to be turned into a furniture shop?’
Wilson designed the strapwork screen behind the altar in the Lady chapel, which was carried out by Nelson Dawson (1859-1941). A watercolour painter, potter, jeweller, silversmith, metalworker, etcher, print-maker and writer on artistic subjects, Dawson’s reputation has probably suffered because he spread his talents too thinly. Alongside his wife, Edith Robinson, he was one of the key figures in the Arts and Crafts movement.
The church is so richly decorated due to the patronage of George, 5th Earl Cadogan (1840-1915) and his wife Beatrix As Lord of the Manor of Chelsea, Cadogan initially funded the entire project.
The lectern breaks with tradition being supported by a magnificent angel with great sweeping wings rather than an eagle. A sketch for the lectern is in the RA collection.
Henry Hugh Armstead (1828-1905) is best known for carving the figures of the poets, painters and musicians on two sides of the Albert Memorial. His association with George Gilbert Scott, overall designer of the Albert Memorial, continued with Armstead working on the external sculptures of the Foreign and Colonial office, Whitehall. He also carved eighteen oak panels for the Queens’s Robing Room, in the Palace of Westminster, illustrating the legend of King Arthur. They sit below the painted murals by William Dyce.
Frederick William Pomeroy (1856-1924) was a leading artist in the ‘New Sculpture’ movement which flourished c. 1880-1914. The term was coined by the art critic Edmund Gosse, who published a four-part series in the Art Journal (1894) on the impact of naturalism on modern British sculpture. The catalyst for this shift from neoclassicism to naturalism is said to be Frederic Leighton’s An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877), It reflected his interest in a more dynamic and vibrant representation of the human body. The same could be said for Pomeroy’s angels sitting on pillars to either side of the chancel gates. The angels appear to be joyously singing from their long song scrolls.
Pomeroy, the son of an artist-craftsman, was articled at a young age to a firm of architectural stone masons. Later he was taught by Jules Dalou, a leading player in the shift to naturalism. After studying at the RA schools, Pomeroy won a travel scholarship allowing him to study Paris. He joined the Art Workers’ Guild in 1887 and began exhibiting at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. At this time he met Sedding who would commission sculptural works for the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell, for the tower of St Clements Church, Bournemouth as well as the angels and choir stalls for Holy Trinity. In 1907 Pomeroy was elected Master of the Art Worker’s Guild.
- Rondels with angel musicians (Pomeroy)
- St. Cuthbert (Pomeroy)
- The Venerable Bede (Pomeroy)
- King Alfred (Pomeroy)
- Bishop Ren (Pomeroy)
- John Keble (Pomeroy)
- St. Martin (Pomeroy)
- St. Margaret (Pomeroy)
- St. Lawrence (Pomeroy)
- St. Nicholas (Pomeroy)
- St. Dorothy (Pomeroy)
- King David playing a harp (Pomeroy)
- St. John the Divine writing the Book of Revelation (Pomeroy)
- Angels on front of choir stalls (Pomeroy)
“Pomeroy’s decoration of the choir stalls [is] one of the most important cycles of sculpture carried out in the late nineteenth century.” — Peyton Skipwith.
The lectern commemorates Beatrix Jane, Lady Cadogan, who died in 1907 (@NPG Ax27655).
It was given by the Upper Chelsea Branch of the Girl’s Friendly Society, of which she was President (1907). The hand wrought iron, steel and brass lectern is said to be designed/made by John Williams of Hornsey. Committed to her charity work, Countess Cadogan assisted at the Irish Industries Association Bazaar, held at Londonderry House, London, in 1895. In this she was supporting her husband who served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1895-1902). She clearly took an interest in the crafts revival then taking place in Ireland.
Stained glass: Morris & Co. window
A collaboration between William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, this is said to be the largest window ever made by Morris & Co. With forty-eight figures, it also contains the largest number of single subjects. The ‘thousands of bright little figures’, as conceived by Burne-Jones, depict Apostles, Patriarchs, Kings, Prophets, and Saints. The tracery above features Angels; Works of Charity; Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; the Fall; the Annunciation, Nativity, and Crucifixion. The Nativity can be seen at the very top of the tracery. Morris would have designed the scrolling foliate backgrounds. The figure of St Bartholomew has also been attributed to him.
Stained Glass, South Aisle: Christopher Whall
Christoper Whall (1849-1924), a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement and a key figure in the history of stained glass, completed eight windows at Holy Trinity. Two windows in the South aisle and six clerestory windows.
Against his parents’ wishes he enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools in 1867. In 1874 he met the architect and designer Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, later a founder of the Century Guild. He would contribute to the Hobby House, the Guild’s publication, also edited by Selwyn Image. During an extensive study tour of Italy, he converted to Roman Catholicism. Back in London by 1879, he struggled to establish himself as an artist. He designed a few stained glass windows for John Hardman & Co. and James Powell & Sons which led to a life-changing decision. Taking Ada Cottage, Blackbrook, Dorking, Whall transformed a shed into a workshop. Here he set about learning all the processes of the craft: cutting, painting, firing, and glazing, so that, no part of the making of his windows would be out of his control. This challenged the division of labour, then almost universally prevalent among commercial manufacturers, which Whall and others saw as incompatible with the status of stained glass as an art rather than simply a trade.
His designs were shown by the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, at the New Gallery, in 1888/89 , which brought him to the attention of Sedding. It was Sedding who gave Whall his first independent commission, for the Lady Chapel East window of St Mary’s church, Stamford, which he completed in 1891.
While advocating a return to craft skills, Whall also experimented with new types of glass in his windows, such Edward Prior’s ‘Early English’ glass, a slab glass which was intended to recreate the ‘luminosity and varied colouring of early medieval glass’. Interested in colours and textures, Whall’s use of white glass was unique at the time.
Three light window designed by Whall and made by him in collaboration with his pupils and assistants, using the workshops of Messrs Lowndes & Drury of 35 Park Walk, Chelsea.
The light from the Star of Bethlehem divides the window in half, with the three Magi on the left and the shepherds on the right accompanied by an angel.
The window was donated by Mrs E Harvey in memory of her husband, Edmund Harvey, who died in 1898.
The Holy Spirit and the Pentecost, Francis Cook Memorial Window, Christopher Whall, 1907
A four light window designed by Whall and made with the collaboration of his pupils and assistants at his newly established studio-workshop at 1 Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith.
The coming of the Holy Spirit takes place on the Jewish day of the festival of the Pentecost, commemorating the giving of the Law at Sinai. Pentecost (meaning fifty), signifying the birth of the church, followed fifty days after Easter. John, Chapter 3, verse: ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell where it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit’
The Spirit came with the sound of the wind and fire. The Spirit’s coming empowered the people with tongues of fire which symbolised ‘speech’.
Stained Glass, North Isle: William Blake Richmond
William Blake Richmond (1842-1921), named in honour of the painter-poet William Blake, is best known for creating the mosaics in St Paul’s Cathedral, a task which took many years to complete (1891-04). Working with James Powell and Sons, glass makers, brought him into contact with the artist-craftsmen associated with the fledging Art and Crafts Movement. He would be elected Master of the Art Worker’s Guild in 1891.
Critical of the blandness of many English churches, declaring they were ‘caves of white-washed sepulchres, uncoloured, or if coloured at all, only in parts, patchily, and with little general idea of design’, he wanted to revive the vibrant colours of Byzantine and early Christian work he had seen in Italy. He was able to put his ideas into practice when he began work on the quire and apse of St Paul’s, acting as both designer and craftsman for the installation of the mosaics. Richmond abandon the flat surface favoured by previous mosaicists, such as Salviati & Co., in favour of a more daring application. Jagged, irregular glass tesserae were set at angles to the surface, so that they would catch the light. The result was controversial.
Richmond translated his experiments with mosaics into his designs for windows. He collaborated with Harry James Powell of James Powell and Sons, in developing new colours. The new, heavier glass, often with light streaks of colour, was used to good effect at Holy Trinity. Three windows were installed between 1905-1910.
Each Virtue is represented by a Patriarch/Saint with below an important scene from their lives
(a)’Love and Hope’ appears above St Louis of France and the scene below depicts him as a splendid knight and ideal Christian monarch.
(b) ‘Justice’ appears above Alfred King of England and the scene below depicts him as lawmaker.
(c) “Wisdom” appears above Abraham Patriarch and the scene below depicts his receiving the divine message from the Lord.
(d) “Fortitude” appears above St. Paul of Tarsus and the light below depicts his spectacular moment of conversion.
(e) “Patience” appears above St. Francis of Assisi, and below his vision of an angel.
(f) “Faith” appears above St Austin Archbishop and the scene below shows him voyage in a boat to convert the inhabitants of Britain.
‘Youth, its Sacrifices and Joys’ is the theme for the central window:
Inscription reads: Panels from left to right: In Thee God I put My Trust; Speak for thy servant heareth; I am the Light of the World; Before Abraham was I am; Children in whom there was no blemish.
(1) top: David soothing Saul with music; bottom: Salome dancing, with the head of John the Baptist presented to Herod (In Thee God I put My Trust).
(2) top: Samuel responding to the divine call in the temple; bottom: Mary in the carpenter’s shop(Speak for thy servant heareth).
(3) Centre: figure of the young Christ rising over all the world. top: Angel; bottom: Nativity (I am the Light of the World). In Betjemen’s words ‘Symbolising hope that this great city may rise to the value of beauty, setting aside money and society as chief aims of life’.
(4) top: Christ with Mary and angel; bottom: Christ in the Temple disputing with the Elders (Before Abraham was I am)
(5) top: Youth serving; bottom: Adam and Eve after the Fall (Children in whom there was no blemish).
Charity window, in memory of Lady Beatrix Cadogan, wife of George, 5th Earl of Cadogan.
The six lights depict acts of charity.
Inscription reads: ‘Charity suffereth long, and; is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up and now; abideth in Faith, Hope and Charity; these three; but the greatest of these is Charity’, 1 Corinthians 13:4 (King James Version).
- Altar and Reredos (John Tweed)
- Altar frontal of the entombment (Harry Bates)
- Baptismal font (F. Boucher and Onslow Ford)
- Suffer the Little Children (after Henry Wilson)
- Vine and grapes plasterwork
In 1873 Sedding designed St Clements, Boscombe, Bournemouth. The reredos, high altar, candlesticks, church plate, pulpit, lectern, choir stalls, encaustic tiles, statue of St Clement and rood screen were all designed by Sedding.
Wilson created an amazing interior for St Bartholomew’s Church, Brighton. He designed the 45 foot high Baldachin in red and green marble (1899 – 1900), communion rails, pavement candlesticks, frieze in the choir stalls, pulpit using a variety of marbles (1906), Lady Altar in intricate repoussé silver on copper (1902), Octagonal font (1908) and wooden gallery (1906).
Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner. London 3: North West. The Buildings of England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, London SW1: A Brief Guide. London: Holy Trinity Church, n.d.
Peyton Skipwith, Holy Trinity Sloane Street. London: Trinity Arts and Crafts Guild, 2002.